An amusing story doing the rounds this week concerns the singer R Kelly who has found himself having to deny claims that he outsourced a personal appearance in Louisiana to an impersonator, leaving thousands of fans up in arms.
This might be an extreme anecdote, but it does highlight the still-relevant question of which tasks are appropriate to outsource. While most might agree that performances and personal appearances are probably best not outsourced, there are a whole range of other ‘personal’ tasks which fall into this area of debate. An acquaintance of mine regularly makes money by picking up the slack for tired, sick or – in one or two cases – nonexistent bloggers and yet another celebrity, actor Danny Dyer has recently complained about being vehemently criticised for misogynistic content in a column he claims he never wrote. These tasks tend to be grey areas – many people and organisations outsource them – but the flip side is that as soon as audiences discover what they see as a deception, they feel cheated.
In a more corporate context, we’ve been reading about an employee who outsourced his coding job in China, paying them 20% of his salary for work which exceeded his employer’s expectations. When discovered, however, he was dismissed for breach of contract. The likes of commentator Tim Ferris would describe this individual as pioneering a great new way of working, but ultimately his bosses felt duped. Again, it’s an interesting grey area and, alongside the issue of what to outsource, raises the question of who should do the outsourcing.
These questions are just another example of the complexity engendered by our increasingly connected world where technology and connectivity are rapidly outstripping our ability to change the way we think about ways of working. The good news is that where technology goes, attitudes are bound to follow. So who knows, by 2030, outsourced concerts might be all the rage.
- Top Outsourcing Disadvantages (ian6steyn.wordpress.com)
- Outsourcing – the alternative to hiring people (robertwellsportfolio.wordpress.com)
- Why Outsourcing for Busbars Could Make Sense For You (hvwooding.wordpress.com)
by Emma Birchall, Head of Research, Future of Work
The Hot Spots Team was at the Thinkers 50 Event earlier this week, where Professor Lynda Gratton was ranked #14 on the list of top management thinkers.
Lynda also participated in a panel debate at the event alongside Amy Edmondson of Harvard Business School, author Tammy Erickson and Stew Friedman from Wharton School of Business. During the debate, Lynda highlighted the fact that although longer life expectancy is one of the most important issues organisations will face in future, few are preparing for it:
“Longevity will be one of the most important issues we face. It will affect everyone and organisations are extremely ill-prepared.”
The event also included an awards ceremony where award-winner Clayton Christensen delivered a moving acceptance speech in which he reminded business professionals and academics alike of the value of time for balance and reflection in our working lives and the unrivalled importance of deep and meaningful relationships with family and friends to provide the support for creativity and success in our careers.
- The 15 Most Influential Thinkers In Business (businessinsider.com)
- The World’s Most Influential Business Thinkers 2013 (forbes.com)
- Canada among top in list of world business thinkers (theglobeandmail.com)
- World’s most influential management thinkers (venitism.blogspot.com)
- Peter Drucker Forum 2013: “The Top Mangement Perspective: Is Complexity on the Agenda?” (globaleduc.wordpress.com)
by Emma Birchall, Head of Research, Future of Work
Our theme for October was Collaboration, so we asked our newsletter readers to share some of their thoughts and experiences around that topic. One of the responses we received was from Brian Snowdon, Learning and Development Manager at Insight Investment, who gave us a really fascinating perspective into how even the language used around collaboration can be challenged by diversity. He says:
“Even the title of the article itself threw up a pertinent example of cultural difference – working previously in a pan-European organisation, a corporate value title of “Collaboration” had very different connotations for people in France and Holland, notably in age groups that had a recollection of the 1940s. We chose to use “Working together” instead.”
Our theme for November is Meaningful Work – if you have any interesting examples or experiences on this topic, please contact email@example.com for a chance to appear on our blog or in our newsletter. We’d love to hear from you!
If you haven’t done so yet, sign up to our newsletter for the latest insights into collaboration, engagement, workplace diversity and the Future of Work.
- INSIGHT Into Diversity Magazine and NADOHE Announce Formal Collaboration (prweb.com)
- The Science of Innovation: 4 Ways Big Data Informs Innovative Processes (business2community.com)
By Lynda Gratton
As a business professor, I’m often asked about the nature of leadership today. When I think about what it means to be a leader right now, the first thing that comes to mind is complexity: today, leadership means being prepared to deal with many stakeholders – from NGOs that are becoming more voracious in their demands to followers who are increasingly emboldened.
This situation is not only complex, but also tough to navigate – particularly in a world that is increasingly transparent and connected. However, there are still things leaders can do to smooth the process – let me share three of them with you.
- Keep your eyes wide open More than 15 years ago my colleague Sumantra Ghoshal and I wrote business cases on three companies that were at that time leaders in their field: BP, Royal Bank of Scotland and Nokia. In one way or another, and for rather different reasons, all of these companies have since struggled. So my first observation is that in an ever more complex world, a company and its leaders are subject to continuous de-stabilizing forces. Being vigilant and observant about the nature and velocity of these forces is crucial. In complex times leaders do not believe the hype that surrounds them – they keep their eyes wide open to the reality of their world.
- Find the balance between being authentic and being a custodian The debate about leadership authenticity is an important counter balance to earlier notions of hierarchical and role based leaders. Rather than following a narrow description of what a leader is – individuals are asked to be themselves, to be authentic and by doing so to bring more of themselves to work. I believe this is an important antidote to old style leadership. However, in an organization that is becoming ever more complex, being faced with a group of leaders all of whom are idiosyncratic in their authenticity, could become confusing and distracting for those that follow. Over dinner we talked about Steve Jobs, who was indeed idiosyncratically authentic, but was also engaged in founding what would become one of the world’s great companies. For many leaders, their role is less as a founder and more as a custodian who is capable of growing and passing on to future generations of employees and shareholders the value that past generations has created. So yes, be authentic to oneself – but not so idiosyncratic that those that follow need a ‘rule book’ on how to engage with leaders. The world is complex enough without this further variable to be considered.
- Remember: it’s all about teams Thinking back to the cases mentioned earlier, I believe that if there is one underlying factor that accounts for the problems encountered by BP, RBS and Nokia it is their failure to build diverse, highly collaborative leadership teams. At RBS, CEO Fred Goodwin isolated himself from his colleagues, failed to listen to others and behaved in an increasingly idiosyncratic manner. At Nokia, the senior leadership team was for a long time extraordinarily homogenous (mostly men, mostly from Finland, mostly software engineers, mostly educated in Helsinki) and so failed to spot the rapid consumer developments in the Asian markets, or indeed the accelerating technological and design developments in Silicon Valley. At BP, the difficulties the leadership team had to integrate the US assets and build close collaboration with those that ran the US acquisitions was one reason why safety standards never became globally embedded. Simply put, as the world becomes more complex, so it becomes ever more crucial to put together leadership teams who have sufficient diversity to see beyond the hubris and myopia, and sufficient collegiality to work collaboratively with each other even when under stress.
- The Entrepreneur Within – Authentic Leadership (shanjonesblog.wordpress.com)
- Declaration and Call to Action on Women and Leadership (ILA) (leadershipspirit.wordpress.com)
- Leadership In Troubled Times (lalitaraman.com)
by Emma Birchall, Head of Research, Future of Work
Roger Trapp has just published a great article referencing our recent inclusion and Diversity and events on the Forbes blog. Entitled Four Ways Leaders Can Energize their Employees, it covers issues of life stage diversity and career customisation that are facing all workers and employers today. As Roger points out, although often clustered under the diversity category, these challenges are actually about collaboration: “Suddenly, fostering collaboration and engineering serendipity are the watchwords for organizations looking for a competitive edge over their rivals.” It’s true that most organisations now recognise that collaboration is key to their success – but they are coming to this knowledge at the same time that their workforce is starting to diversify in ways they simply never imagined. As a result, there are still a lot of questions around these issues waiting to be answered. Business leaders may be the ones urgently looking for solutions, but it’s up to all of us to ponder them and come up with answers.
A few months ago, two survey companies had a violent public debate about the merits of measuring engagement as an indicator of performance. On the one side, Gallup argued that engagement (which it defines as 12 specific elements) predicts performance outcomes. On the other, Leadership IQ claimed that there is often an inverse relationship between engagement and performance, meaning that engaged people can still be low performers.
This debate hit the pages of the Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review, but for me the debate seemed to be missing the broader and more urgent point: that surveys and the companies that advocate them are missing a huge shift in the way that
There is no doubt that engagement has some effect on employee productivity. Gallup and Leadership IQ agree on that much. However, administering yearly surveys to measure and benchmark engagement is no longer revealing insights into how people want to
work. When talking to companies on the topic of engagement, there is growing indifference and even resentment towards the yearly grind of administering, analysing and reporting on abstract and aggregated engagement scores. The
employee engagement survey is no longer fit for purpose, if it ever was.
A social approach to engagement
Organisations are inherently social constructs. Traditionally, the sheer scale and complexity of many global organisations has led to the creation of hierarchies of command. The engagement survey reflects this hierarchy, being sent from the top to gauge the sentiment of those further down the line. Yet we all know that technology has now evolved to such a point that work no longer relies on hierarchies and the simplifying constructs of command-and-control. The complexity of global organisations can be mirrored and enhanced by complex self-organising online communities. In this context, the idea of employee engagement surveys seems anachronistic, and should give way to something that is not only far more collaborative, but also something that is instantaneous.
We’ve been working on FoWlab for five years now. What started off as a simple online forum for our Future of Work Consortium members to come and discuss our research has since become a world-class platform for conducting online “Jams”. Though we never set out to create an alternative to employee engagement surveys, we think we may have created something that augments, and most probably succeeds the traditional survey in the field of engagement.
FoWlab, as the soft-spoken woman in our video will tell you, is a guided online conversation that harnesses the collaborative intelligence of an organisation’s employees to find solutions to its complex challenges. At first glance, FoWlab looks like Facebook or Yammer. But it’s not a platform as much as it is an online event. And it is more a research tool than a social hub. It runs for just 72 hours, and is constantly facilitated by a global team of researchers.
In the last three years, we have conducted FoWlab Jams for many of the world’s largest companies, and the most interesting thing that has come out of the experience is that it delivers many of the same insights as employee engagement surveys, but in a way
that itself creates engagement rather than simply measuring it. Part of this is down to the fact that it builds on many-to-many relationships and interactions, rather than simply being a one-to-many consultation. FoWlab encourages participants to ask their own questions on subjects that they feel passionate about, and develop the ideas of other participants in an open and truly collaborative conversation. Engagement surveys, limited as they are to predefined questions that tend to be sector-agnostic, have a tendency to miss vital information.
A great example of this came out of a FoWlab Jam we ran with PwC’s millennial population. Dennis Finn, Vice Chairman and Global Human Capital Leader at the company, said that “by encouraging our employees to freely discuss why they chose to work for PwC, and how their working lives could be improved, FoWlab was great at delivering unexpected insights that the survey would never have touched on”. The Jam ran parallel to a broader company-wide survey and, in addition to confirming many of the results that came out of the survey, FoWlab revealed that a great deal of millennials at PwC were fixated on their physical wellbeing and thought that the ability to spend time at the gym was a crucial factor in their engagement levels at work. The issue of physical wellbeing wasn’t covered in the survey, nor do many other engagement surveys ask about it.
A common criticism we hear laid against surveys is that they tend to confirm what you already know. You can feel when your employees are unengaged at work, and putting a percentage against that feeling isn’t going to do much. But running a FoWlab jam not only helps organisations diagnose problems that you may not have preempted in a survey, it can also help generate solutions to those problems. Of the three days that FoWlab runs, one day is dedicated exclusively to action steps, asking “how can we turn the insights discussed over the past 48 hours into tangible solutions?”
So while Leadership IQ and Gallup continue to argue about the meaning of engagement, we at the Future of Work Consortium are building the future of engagement by involving the people you want to engage in a collaborative discussion about the future of the organisation.
- The Definition of Employee Engagement and Why Worker Engagement is Important (greatwithtalent.me)
- What is an Employee Engagement Survey? (greatwithtalent.me)
- Most American Workers Are Disengaged. Why? (psychologytoday.com)
- Employee Engagement Delivers Positive Returns (domo.com)
- Employee Engagement: Initiating for the Uninitiated (hrschoolhouse.com)